We recently listened to a podcast where a seasoned elementary school principal, with 20 years of experience in public education, talked about the greatest challenges facing our kids. His answer: “Social media, smart phones, and video games.”
Let that sink in.
There are many challenges educators face, from funding to classroom size, literacy, family conflicts and more. But trumping the net effect on those massive issues is the impact of our kids’ access to certain sectors of the digital ecosystem. As a reminder, parents are largely responsible for granting or denying that access. Katey McPherson, a renowned mental health expert on the crisis facing our teens would say, “This is on us.”
To quote the good folks at Gabb Wireless, “Too much technology, too soon, is too dangerous.” When we first started Parents Who Fight in 2015, we speculated what internet dangers would look like in five years, and here we are. Back then, most elementary school kids didn’t have iPhones and TikTok (formerly Music.ly). Today, pre-teens are on social media by the millions (emarketer.com), the average age for kids to get a smartphone with a data plan is 10 years old, and 56% of pre-teens have encountered nudity or sexual content online.
The toll of early and unrestricted access to the depths of the digital ocean is very clear. Anxiety, depression, suicide, sexual exploitation and more.
If you are an adult reading this, think about what age YOU first ventured into social media, a smartphone, or an Internet-connected gaming system. I was 35 when I opened my first social media account—a joint Facebook profile with my husband. 36 when I learned how to T9 text on my flip phone. 38 when I got my first smartphone. My brain was fully formed and I had plenty of life experience to form wisdom in traversing each level of greater tech access, even with a steep learning curve.
My experience as a newbie to these technologies was nothing like that of a preteen or teen today. I certainly didn’t have notifications showing on my phone to suck me into the rabbit hole. I didn’t have creeps messaging and asking me to spread my legs within minutes of opening my Instagram account. And no one has ever told me to kill myself via text message.
One of our favorite allies Bark just released a chilling mini-documentary detailing the way sexual predators hunt teen and pre-teen girls on social media. In the film, you see in real-time an undercover mom walk in the shoes of an 11-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl opening accounts on social media. It’s frightening how relentlessly young people are being pursued by sexual predators. After watching this video, can we please put to bed the “she’s so responsible” or “I think we should trust our kids” defenses? The people hunting your kids on social media don’t care if they are responsible or if you trust them.
(Turn off YouTube Restricted Mode to view)
Instead of focusing on whether our kids are responsible, let’s talk about whether we are responsible.
It’s our responsibility as parents to determine what kind of access is healthy and right for our kids, and at what age. And we’re the only ones who can get in the way of what the culture is trying to heap on our kids.
Adulthood has its own set of pressures and burdens. And healthy adults use boundaries to shield kids from those burdens until the age-appropriate time of training comes. Eventually, kids must learn to navigate pressures and responsibilities so they can become healthy adults themselves. We may not be therapists, but it’s clear to us that our kids are bearing the load of what is actually our responsibility long before they are ready.